Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Preparing for Collège

My youngest son is in CM2 and going to Collège next September. He seems to be remarkably unmoved by this impending change except for the idea of taking the bus which appeals tremendously.

Last night there was a meeting for parents of these future collegiens to introduce the Principal and present the curriculum. I nearly didn't go. My eldest son only left last year and I didn't feel there was much I could learn. Then I remembered how they keep mucking around with education and thought it best to attend just in case.

In the end I was glad to make the effort. I arrived 10 minutes early which meant I got the penultimate car parking space (officially at least) and, armed with my Kindle went in to wait and read. Have Kindle, will wait happily. Actually I could have spent my time saying hello to other mummies I know (and some dads) but I'm an anti-social bugger so after a bit of that on the way in, I sought peace in my book.

There must have been about 300 people there; the room was packed in fact. The Principal introduced himself and started talking about courses and options. In 6e the kids can do the usual run of subjects plus English or 'bilingual English-German', no Spanish which is bizarre considering how close we live to the Spanish border (when my eldest son was in 6e there was Spanish but no German!).

In 5e they can take one of two options if they like - Latin or French Sign Language because there are about 20 mal-entendant kids in the school and the idea is to get other kids to able to talk to them. I thought this a remarkably good idea, but I want my son to do Latin. He is not keen to put it mildly, but he is so 'inculte' (and proud of it!) that I want him to make the effort, especially as at least half the course is based on historical and social study which is really interesting. My youngest has Playmobil Roman soldiers and even the amphitheatre. When I pointed this out, he said that he just likes getting them to kill each other as gladiators, just like he enjoys battles between his modern soldiers.

My eldest son decided to stir the pot by adding that it would help with history lessons so he'd be able to get easy marks because he would already have studied some of the material. Anyway, as I said to my youngest, I don't often put my foot down absolutely, but I know what's good for him in this case, and he will study Latin in 5e. End of.

Back in the room, one parent was asking how he could prevent his child from having Mr B, a French teacher. When the Principal (unwisely) asked why, the dad said that his eldest child had suffered from two years of this teacher's regular absences, got no effective teaching from him and had had to have two years of private lessons to make up for the lack of teaching. You can imagine the ripple of murmuring discontent that swept across the sea of parents. The Principal was not more than mildly put out, considering the seriousness of the charge, and responded that while Mr B might have been absent for training 'from time to time', the Principal was not able to have him covered so it was basically just tough. And there was nothing the dad could do to avoid his second child having this teacher. There was no uproar from the rest of the room. Everyone knows that the education of kids is sacrificed to the alter of union power which years ago negotiated total job security of teachers making it impossible to sack them, and budget issues.

My eldest son, who also had Mr B, said that this teacher was forever ill in fact, but not all the time, and covering for patchy absences is not as simple to put in place as a one nice long regular absence. If my youngest has Mr B, I'm not going to stand by and do nothing. Every single missed lesson will be noted and I'll then send in a report to the Rectorat with a complaint. If I can get hold of other parents to do the same then the volume of complaints might end with action. Some hope, but I still think it's important to complain.

I heard another bad teacher story on Sunday when we were celebrating my youngest's birthday (which is next week) at Paintball with 12 of his friends and brother. They had a lovely time while I looked on with a couple of mothers. One of them told me about her son who is having a terrible time in school at the moment with a toxic teacher. He is also in CM2 and this teacher has been telling him he's an idiot and incapable. From being a content kid happy to learn, he is now a wreck, wrings his hands when he has to do his homework and is anxious all the time when he goes to school.

Naturally the parents are appalled and have started to take action, going to the school to talk to the teacher, but coming away frustrated because this teacher won't let anyone finish a sentence. She interrupts the whole time and dismisses all discussion (and it's interesting to note that she is going through some personal problems at the moment so could be taking it out on this kid?). They were due to have a meeting with the teacher and the head yesterday to ask the teacher to 'fouter le paix' - leave the kid alone until the end of June. I hope they got their message across.

Teaching is not supposed to be about demoralising kids and destroying the desire to learn, but as many people go into teaching in France for reasons other than to teach (job security, long holidays), the result is some stunningly bad teachers who leave a wake of destruction and emotional wreckage behind them.

It only takes one bad teacher to ruin a kid's desire to learn.